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6.17 pm

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): First and foremost, I am a Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, I also represent an English constituency. It is vital that all hon. Members remember that our duty is to govern the country in an equal and fair manner. As a Conservative and Unionist, I will not support any proposal that would undermine the nation's unity in any way.

I urge all hon. Members, especially those who have complained about so-called English nationalism, to accept that the constitutional mess sadly created by this Government's policies assists those who want to create the divisions in our country that the vast majority of hon. Members oppose. Hon. Members of all parties must ensure that our policies and ideas are formed in the knowledge that our responsibility is to govern all British people, in the whole of the country. It is wrong that any legislation should benefit one part of the UK preferentially.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I am confused: is he supporting the motion or not? I hope that he will clarify that. He believes that our constitution is in a mess, but Opposition Front-Bench Members have said—today, at any rate—that they support the devolution settlement. Does the hon. Gentleman support it?

Mr. Rosindell: I believe in the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That Union must be based on fair and equal constitutional government across the kingdom. The present system is not fair to the whole of the UK. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) was correct to say that, if a Scottish Parliament has devolved powers, the only logical conclusion is that England should have a Parliament as well. Let me make it clear to all hon. Members, however, that I do not support the idea of an English Parliament like the Scottish Parliament that has been created. I should like to see one electoral system and one general election held on the same day for the whole United Kingdom. The issue would then be about which matters we, as English, Scottish or Welsh MPs, thought should be devolved, so that we could separate to decide on them. It is completely wrong that Romford has one Member of Parliament but that a Scottish or Welsh constituency has a Member of Parliament here at Westminster plus a Member of the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly. That is the complete mess brought about by the current constitutional arrangement.

I honestly believe that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, with whom I have had many discussions on a number of issues, is committed to the Union, as I am. Many of the personalised attacks that have been made this afternoon on my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) are unfair, because he has simply tried to raise a constitutional anomaly which, if we are not careful, will end up dividing our country far more than at present.

Rosemary McKenna: If the hon. Gentleman believes that his constituents are disadvantaged because we have

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Members of the Scottish Parliament, what steps is he taking to support the Government's attempt to provide regional government in England, which would give his constituents exactly the same privileges as we have?

Mr. Rosindell: When the hon. Lady talks of regional government, she insults everyone in England. England, no less than Scotland, is a nation. To condemn English nationalism, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) did earlier, is divisive. I detest any policy that is likely to divide our country further. I entered Parliament, and joined the Conservative and Unionist party, first and foremost because I believe in this country—the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are in a constitutional mess, and we must return to the real issue of how to resolve that problem.

I reiterate that we must have a fair and equal system across the country. We do not need to create more politicians, as we have done with the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. We need only one MP per constituency, and we could then divide up on devolved issues. I would have no problem if the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland sat in an Edinburgh Parliament as the hon. Member for Stirling to deal with education, health or local government, as long as I could also sit in an English Parliament to do the same. What is wrong is that we have two MPs for Stirling, one called an MSP and one, the hon. Lady present today, sitting in Westminster. We must have one Parliament, one electoral system and one general election—a simple system that is fair and equal for all people throughout the United Kingdom.

Mrs. McGuire: I know from our discussions how committed the hon. Gentleman is to the Union, and I remember that he tried to become a Scottish Member of this Parliament when he stood as the candidate for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party in Glasgow, Provan. As he will remember, he indulged in a fairly interesting election campaign.

Will the hon. Gentleman consider the words of his right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I ask the hon. Lady to leave it there?

Mr. Rosindell: I am delighted that the Minister remembered that I was first a candidate in Glasgow, Provan. I was proud to stand for that constituency, which was a long way from home. I admit that it was a place that I knew little about, but it was none the less part of my country. I stood as a Conservative and Unionist candidate at a time when many members of my party were willing to ditch the word "Unionist". I shall never do that.

I urge the Minister: please, let us not bury our heads in the sand. Many people in England are increasingly angry and hurt by the current situation. We need to find a permanent resolution to this constitutional anomaly.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman said that he entered Parliament to support the unity of the United Kingdom. He became a Member only two and a half years ago, in 2001, so can

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he understand that those of us who entered the House in 1979, and suffered 18 years of opposition and opposed the policies of the Conservative Government, which caused tremendous harm and hardship to Scots and Scotland, do not have great sympathy for the situation of the hon. Gentleman and his party? Can he also understand that those policies and that Conservative Government presented a far bigger threat to the Union—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions are getting longer and longer and time is running out.

Mr. Rosindell: I accept the point that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) was making. As a United Kingdom MP, I believe that my constituents and people in England must accept the decision of the United Kingdom Parliament. Sometimes things work out the other way around.

First and foremost, I am a United Kingdom MP and although, in my view, the present situation does not benefit my constituents, I accept that we are one nation. Several countries make up the United Kingdom but we are one people and one nation, and any Member of Parliament or any individual who undermines the Union damages the future of our nation.

The West Lothian question is not new. There are many other anomalies. We govern the British overseas territories, such as Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, yet their people have no vote in the House. I should like this place to be truly the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and all British people should be represented here, while deciding for themselves on locally devolved issues—whether in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, or the House of Assembly of Gibraltar. We must always be a United Kingdom Parliament, however, governing all British people equally throughout the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland and the territories that remain British and for which we are responsible.

I conclude by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, who is tackling a very difficult situation for our country. I hope that hon. Members will stop personalising the issue and realise that there is a serious constitutional anomaly. We should work as a United Kingdom Parliament to solve the problem in the long term. If we politicise it—as has happened to a great extent in the debate—we shall be further divided and we shall further undermine the unity of our country. We shall be doing the greatest disservice that Members of Parliament could ever do to the United Kingdom.

6.28 pm

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I want to bring the debate back from the somewhat intriguing vision of an imperial Parliament, covering all the parts of the globe that are still coloured red, to the practicalities of the Conservative proposals.

Mr. Savidge rose—

Mr. Lazarowicz: I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a little while.

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The practical difficulties cannot simply be laughed off as the Conservatives have tried to do today. Members on both sides of the Chamber have given examples that show how the proposals would not work in a practical sense. I want to dwell on two of those in more detail and take some of the lessons that need to be drawn from them.

First, the Higher Education Bill, which comes to the House next week, has been mentioned. Clauses on tuition fees will not be applicable to Scotland, but they have implications for Scotland. Large parts of the Bill will be directly applicable to Scotland as well. Therefore, clearly, that cannot be regarded as an English-only measure.

Last year's legislation on foundation hospitals was applicable only to England, although it clearly had UK-wide implications, including many sections that applied to other parts of the United Kingdom as well. A couple of years ago a number of hon. Members who are present in the Chamber served with me on the Standing Committee considering the Proceeds of Crime Bill. That contained provisions some of which applied to the UK as a whole, some of which applied only to England and Wales, some of which applied only to Scotland and some of which applied only to Northern Ireland.

The consequence of the Conservatives' proposals would be to have what my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) so graphically described as a hokey-kokey, with Members from different parts of the UK having to run into the Chamber, vote on those provisions affecting only their areas, then leave again as the English Members came in for their bits and went out again to be replaced by the Northern Ireland Members. There would be no way to have any serious debate of broad issues of principle.

At what stages in the process would the voting ban on Scottish Members, and perhaps in due course Northern Irish and Welsh Members, apply? Would it just be on Report, when we deal with specific amendments and clauses? Or would it apply to Standing Committees as well? Would it apply to Second and Third Readings, when we are voting on proposals as a whole? Would it apply just to those measures that are exclusively English, of which there are hardly any? Or would it apply to those measures where the bulk of a Bill applies to England only, but where there are certain important Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish consequences as well? How would that new system work?

Would we have two-, three-, or four-stemmed Second Reading debates, in which we voted for the Scottish bits, the Northern Irish bits, the Welsh bits and the English or UK bits? What should we do if a measure received Second Reading approval for the English bits, but not the Scottish or Welsh bits? How should we resolve the differences? Clearly, it is a recipe for constitutional chaos and could not be managed meaningfully within this Chamber.

The only arrangement that would be even more unworkable is that which I understand is favoured by the Scottish National party. The present proposal at least has some clarity, in that measures that were

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applicable only to England would not be ones on which Scottish Members could vote. The Scottish National party would replace that with a pick-and-mix system under which a Scottish Member could choose the issues on which he or she wanted to vote. The reality is that there is hardly any issue that one could not, if one wished, suggest had some implications for Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish constituencies.

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